Big Friday kicked off with a bang in the men’s draw. Perhaps it wasn’t clean enough to make it a ‘Classic Bells ’ day, but as Gabriel Medina and Reef Heazlewood paddled out for their heavily anticipated heat the swell was still ratcheting up with every set.

It wasn’t long before Medina was delivering a master-class in backside surfing at maxing Bells, wrenching his thoroughbred thighs through low-slung bottom turns where he flirted with a rail clutch to derive maximum torque. When Bells has this kind of volume it’s the bottom turn that sets everything up and ensures you can cover the necessary distance to reach the next section. While most surfers could manage the open face weaving only a few had the necessary timing, power and precision to take on the chunky Bells lips with success. Medina attacked the coping fearlessly and consistently rode out. Frequently it’s the imploding end section at Bells, which separates an average score from a good one. Gabriel had its measure. He already rides high volume boards so he can easily adjust to minor up-scales or get away with his regulation rides in bigger waves. While Reef Heazlewood has performed exceptionally as a wildcard, Medina clearly demonstrated that he is capable of going into another performance realm.

Ronnie and Luke Egan were asking something interesting rhetorical questions.

“What are you getting for good turns on a smaller waves on a bigger day?” posed Egan. Riccardo Christie locked in a 5.17 for such an execution. The problem for Riccardo was that his opponent, Owen Wright, was doing great surfing on bigger waves. The bigger it gets the better Owen Wright looks, uncoilng his lanky frame with rhythmical precision through a symphony of turns. On the big, puzzling faces no one was connecting the dots better than Owen. No chinks or bumps or half turns – just seamless transitions and cleaving hooks. Owen may need to add a degree of difficulty and power to his turns to really match the likes of John John and Medina. Towards the end of the heat Owen went closer to the outside of the envelope, but ultimately fell on what would have been one of his best waves.

“How many average turns do you have to do to match one excellent turn?” probed Ronnie. Yago Dora locked in a 5.8 for a single upside-down snap on an imposing outside section. It wasn’t enough to get past a composed Willian Cardoso who carved and cut-back and chipped away with brutal precision.        

Then of course John John had one of those moments when the waves, equipment and his state of mind conspire to produce something special. It happened a couple of years ago at Margaret River and this morning’s Bells performance was arguably on par. On the open face John John applied his twisted ribbon rail approach, transitioning between sections with hands hung low like a sharp-shooter getting ready to draw. One hero carve to rebound would have covered half a football field if you straightened out the arc. John John matched the open-faced aesthetics with hammer-dropping power turns and lay-back hacks. It was the contrasts in John John’s surfing that made it more appealing than other surfers who only have one mode. Once again John John was dancing with his beloved Ghost model, a board John Pyzel once described as a ‘cutter’, custom-made for blitzing through chop and bump on a heavy-water wave. Post heat a typically humble John John acknowledge that wild, unruly Bells is the sort of wave he thrives in. “It feels like big Hawaii. In Hawaii you tune all your boards for the wind and the chop.” Poor Jadson Andre was not surfing badly but in the end John John was on song and won with throw-aways.

Although not at his blitzing best, yellow-robed Italo made light work of an underwhelming Jack Freestone. No one turns out of the lip faster than Italo. This is an advantage because it makes the manoeuvre look more dramatic (and satisfies the part of criteria that calls for speed) but also because it enables him to escape the cascading Bells lips, which chase you down the face like a white, frothy monster.

The best battle of the round was between Zeke Lau and Jeremy Flores – two sluggers going toe to toe in waves of consequence. Flores’ high-speed layback snap on a monster section rivalled John John for the move of the day. Mercurial Jeremy frequently comes off second best in close encounters but he did enough with a clutch final move to impress the judges and sneak past Zeke who failed to fully utilise his extra size and power.

Ahh this will all be in the past and rendered irrelevant in the context of the contest pretty soon, Kelly has already paddled out for the next round. However the round of 32 is the new format’s biggest derby and this morning’s proceedings certainly warranted a little reflection.